Monday, June 09, 2008


A face only a mother could love

The children’s book, “Arthur, for the Very First Time,” by Patricia MacLachlan, begins with a chapter titled “Moles.”

“What do moles look like?” asked Arthur.

“Ugly,” said his father.

Arthur wrote in his journal: Moles: ugly

“And they always come no matter what I do!” said his father angrily.

Ugly, but loyal.

The same day that I read that chapter to a class of second graders, I ran into a friend in line at Home Depot. “You should write about moles,” she said. “They’ve invaded my garden, killed a new fifteen dollar ginger plant from the roots – overnight. It was just like in ‘Caddy Shack’!”

A few days later, while I was taking Bell for a spin around the backyard, I encountered the mortally wounded, though quite recognizable, body of a mole.

It was fate. I asked my friend Linda Christine to give me the name of our local mole expert, and she sent me to Bill Hayes. Bill is a Master Gardener and plant lover, and he has a talk that his gives about moles and their fellow burrowers, voles.

Moles, he begins by saying, are misunderstood. They may not be loyal, as Arthur suggests, since they are solitary creatures who do not tolerate company; but they are not all together bad since they are not rodents, only eat insects and aerate the lawn. They are therefore beneficial to your garden, unless of course you want to grow something. Then they are pests and must by eliminated, according to Bill.

Moles can move fast, and when tunneling, will often surface, creating a volcano like mound of dirt. This differentiates the mole from the vole.

“The moles’ main food is the earthworm and they will follow the worm,” writes Bill. “That’s why most of the tunnels are at the surface during cool wet weather. The worms like to come up to the surface into soft wet grass. In times of drought we get fewer calls about moles. That’s usually when the surface temperatures are hot and harder than usual. Some homeowners contribute to the problem by over watering and creating the perfect mole/worm environment.”

That’s another reason not to overwater.

You can tell a mole is there if you see a raised tunnel that you hit with the lawnmower. The grass above the tunnel may be turning brown, and your feet may sink into the surface in several locations.

There are many old wives tales about how to get rid of moles, but most of them don’t work, says Bill.

The only way to get rid of moles is to “trap” them!

Trap is in quotation marks because you do not trap them with traps, you kill them, he says.

With names like “harpoon”, “scissors”, and “strangle”, the traps are pretty clear about their purpose.

There is a set of procedures or steps that you must follow to catch the mole.

1. Flatten all mole runs (tunnels). Use your feet or rent a roller. You must locate the primary run. The primary run will lead to the mole’s den or resting place. It is usually in soft soil around a flower bed.
2. Wait 24-48 hours
3. Return to your yard with enthusiasm and locate the active runs.
4. The primary run should be the longest with several shorter runs coming off of it.
5. Insert and set the trap in the primary run close to the den according to instructions.
6. Wait about 24 hours.
7. Exhume mole and discard.

You will now have free time to do other chores until the next mole moves in.

Kind of cute - if you like rodents.

Then there are voles. There are two kinds of voles around Aiken. The pine vole lives below ground and feeds on the roots of plants. The meadow vole (also known as a meadow mouse) lives above ground and eats succulent plants such as hostas, cannas, elephant ears and anything else that you treasure in your garden.

Unlike moles, the voles are sociable critters. They live in large colonies and can do severe damage to a garden or to large plants. Pine voles’ exit holes, resembling those of a snake, can be found around azaleas, camellias or other large plants that they are eating. They eat bulbs, tubers, seeds, and bark

Meadow voles are typically a little bigger than their cousins and live in pine straw piles and other vegetation and return to this vegetation after feeding. They eat grasses, sedges, seeds, grain, bark, and some insects. Both types of voles can be caught with mousetraps.

Bill suggests that it was probably a pine vole that got my friend’s ginger plant.

Meadow voles live in pine straw piles and other vegetation and return to this sanctuary after feeding. Both types of voles can be caught with mouse traps. Care should be taken to avoid poisons that can be eaten by cats or dogs.

Pine voles can be tricked into coming to the surface by creating an artificial tunnel above ground. Place a raised object like a box, pail or roofing shingles over the exit hole and put a few small pieces of apple under the cover. Put a weight on top of the cover to keep any light from entering. The vole will enter the space and eat the apple. After baiting the area for a few days, place a mouse trap in the space baited with apple. You should be able to trap several before they stop coming.

The easiest way for me to tell the difference between a mole and a vole is by the size of their feet. Voles have tiny feet proportional to their size, and they are actually kind of cute – if you like rodents. Moles have feet that look like the mole version of clown feet – without the shoes. I guess to dig that fast, you have to have special equipment.

For the record – I know there are moles and voles around my yard, since I’ve seen them. I haven’t noticed any damage, so I am willing to let them be, but if they are damaging your lawn and garden, you must choose whether or not you want to fight them. That will mean killing them using some kind of trap.

Once you have rid your lawn and garden of moles and voles and shrews (which can also do damage), or you have decided to coexist peacefully with them, you will have a chance to sit down and read. Try reading “Arthur, for the Very First Time” to your favorite elementary school student. It is a beautifully written book I nearly missed.